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Oakes Weekly - Feb. 6, 2003

Samuel Adams Big Beers Tasting
Brewers/Industry February 6, 2003      
Written by Oakes

Richmond, CANADA -

<P>When I saw the announcement it was quite something. Here, in Toronto of all places, there was going to be a Samuel Adams tasting. It was only $25 and they were bringing all their big beers. It didn't sound quite right, did it? The Millennium (retail $200) and the Utopias (retail $100) were both going to be there. For $25 to get a crack at these two was well worth it.

<P>The event was held at the Esplanade Bier Markt, a busy after-work kind of place that sells a ridiculous amount of beer, and carries most of the interesting brands available in Ontario. I haven't been down there very much lately, so it was nice to get back. The tasting was held in a separate room that sits behind the bar. It was well-appointed, as the Esplanade is a stylish kind of place. A marketing rep and a brewer from Sam Adams were on hand to lead the proceedings, beginning with a history of the company and continuing with descriptions of the various beers we were presented with.

<P>They started us off with the Spring Ale. This light beer, which they reckon is a Kölsch, just furthers my theory that making good Kölsch is a difficult thing to do. So many people try and fail, and unfortunately Sam Adams can be added to that list. It's a nice style when you nail it, but it's a tough task. Strangely, the only previous sample of the Spring Ale I'd had was after the Chicago Real Ale Festival a few years ago, and even after all those wonderful beers, it still scored higher than on this occasion - quite the opposite of what I would have expected.

<P>Next up was the flagship Boston Lager. When fresh, this is still a pretty good brew, though it isn't what it used to be back when Mittelfrüh hops were plentiful and lent this beer a distinctive signature.

<P>In here somewhere we were fed a little bit of sausage, some factory cheeses (after the farmhouse cheese plate at my firkin party on the weekend, this wasn't going to cut it at all), and some thin but tasty clam chowder. The Winter Lager was next. I thought it was kind of funny that the brewer kept insisting that this is a traditional wheat bock. Seems to me a traditional weizenbock would be made with a weizen yeast, and would not contain cinnamon, ginger and orange peel.

<P>Finally we got to the big beers. The mamma jammas, if you will. First up was Triple Bock. I've never liked this viscous soy sauce before, so I wasn't holding out much hope. They broke out the 1994 vintage, and I must say that after nine years it is starting to really turn into a fine beer. The whiskeyish aroma had notes of vanilla, alcohol, molasses, maple sugar and tons of malt. It was still very sweet, but there was hardly any soy sauce to be found, instead maple, sugar, some beautiful malt components, alcohol, all leading to a long, sweet finish. I figure this could improve another five years yet.

<P>Next up was the one new beer of the night for me, the fabled Millennium. Whereas Utopias has made the rounds of festivals like the Mondial and GABF, Millennium was never made available to the public like that. Well, it was at the Stockholm Beer Festival a couple years back, much to my dismay. Imagine the indignity of having omhper sample a rare North American brew knowing that you'll never get to try it yourself! Let's just say I finally got a full night's sleep last Wednesday, because I finally evened the Millennium score. This was the lightest in colour of the big three, with bourbon, cherries, alcohol, chocolate and walnuts in the aroma. The palate was very sweet, with maple, vanilla, alcohol, and caramelized sugars. The texture was surprisingly creamy, but the alcohol dried it out in the finish. Very decadent stuff, and very worth of its newfound place in the Ratebeer Top 50.

<P>Lastly, Utopias. I had this last year, and the differences between the two were interesting. With this beer, and the Millennium, it is not necessary to drink it all at once. They are still, so you can drink them over a period of weeks or even months, just as with a single malt. Last year's sample came courtesy of Stephen Beaumont, who'd opened the bottle several weeks earlier. At the time, he told me that it was probably aking to aging an unopened bottle for two or three years. He was right. The stuff at the tasting had just been opened and it was kind of harsh, even with a year of bottle age. The alcohol overwhelmed the bourbon, oak, vanilla and maple that I had enjoyed a year previous. It burned, even after I'd already had two of the world's strongest beers that night. I would say that not only is it safe to drink the beer over a period of a few months, it is recommended.

<P>Overall, the tasting was a pretty good show. The beers at the end were real standouts, and I was amazed to find the Triple Bock was the highest-scoring one of the night. Half the Toronto beer scene was there, including Michael Hancock (ex of Denison's), the guys from Mill Street, Paul Dickey from the Pepperwood and Black Oak, no fewer than five Ratebeerians, and other local luminaries. It's great that the scene is coming together so much more than before - with all different sectors starting to get to know each other - the old school, the new school and the pros.



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